Habish Ribin Haneef
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“Ethno” means study of people and “botany” means study of plants. Hence, it is evident that Ethnobotany is the relationship between people and plants. What kind of a relationship? Well, let’s make it clear. Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture or region make use of their native plants. As we know, plants provide us with many benefits including food, medicine, shelter, fibers, oils, resins, soaps, and what to tell more, they play a very crucial role in the air we are breathing. Some people also use plants for ceremonial or spiritual rituals. So, ethnobotany is all about how people are utilising all these advantages from plants. In this blog, let’s briefly discuss ethnobotany.



The term ethnobotany was coined by John William Harshberger, a 20th century botanist. He used the term ethnobotany while he was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, US. Yes, the name was coined by Harshberger, but actually the practice of ethnobotany started years back. In AD 77, Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician published a book that contained detailed information of about 600 plants in the Mediterranean. This book included the medicinal uses of plants, which plants are edible or not, which plants are poisonous and harmful, etc. Yes, through Dioscorides’s book, many understood the vital uses of plants and this is considered as the first ever known work in ethnobotany.

The next milestone in the field of ethnobotany was in the year 1542. Leonhart Fuchs, a renaissance artist wrote a book named “De Historia Stirpium” that included the details of 400 plants native to Germany and Austria. This work helped to expand the field of ethnobotany further. The next was a revolutionary discovery. Today for any species in the field of Biology, we use a two part name, i.e., “genus” and “species”, right? It was Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Botanist who invented this binomial method of nomenclature. He also wrote a book named “Species Plantarum” in 1753, that included the details of about 5,900 plants and this book was also very crucial for the growth of ethnobotany.

The field of Botany had a terrific growth and revolution in the 19th century. Alexander Von Humboldt, a German geographer, had a deep research on the latest plants and their benefits. This helped him to attain many important uses of plants that can have a great impact in people’s life. The information provided by James Cook, a famous British explorer and navigator too became very important. James Cook is famous for his three voyages between 1768 and 1779 in the Pacific Ocean, Australia, and NewZealand. After his return, Cook came with imperative information about many plants in the South Pacific. All these discoveries created an extraordinary impact in the field of Botany. It was during this time many Botanical gardens were invented and this helped the entire world to acquire more ideas and information about plants and their uses.

All these developments in the field of Botany led to the discovery of “Aboriginal Botany”. Aboriginal Botany encompasses all forms of plant life that are used by aboriginal people for food, medicine, textiles, ornaments, etc.

Modern Ethnobotany


Leopold Glueck, a German Physician was the first individual to study the emic perspective of the plant world. His book “Traditional medical uses of plants done by rural people of Bosnia” published in 1896 is considered as the first modern work in ethnobotany. In the 20th century, many changes and transformations occurred in the field of ethnobotany. Ethnobotany has evolved from the raw collection of data to a more methodologically and conceptually oriented field. Ethnobotany as an academic discipline began with this work and Richard Evans Schultes, an American Biologist is considered as the father of this discipline.

Modern ethnobotany requires many skills such as botanical training for the identification and preservation of plant specimens, anthropological training to understand the cultural concepts around the perception of plants, linguistic training to understand native morphology, syntax, and semantics.

Scientific Journals

Some of the important journals covering ethnobotanical research are listed below:

  • Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
  • Economic Botany
  • Ethnobotany Research and Application
  • Journal of Ethnopharmacology
  • Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge
  • Latin American and Caribbean Bulletin of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants


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Check your knowledge

Answer.  Ethnobotany is the study of how people of a particular culture or region make use of their native plants.

Answer. The term ethnobotany was coined by John William Harshberger, a 20th century botanist.

Answer. Leonhart Fuchs, a renaissance artist

Answer. Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish Botanist

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